2016 fantasy football depth charts: Cincinnati Bengals
(Editor’s note: As we lead up to the season, Director of PFF Fantasy Jeff Ratcliffe is breaking down each team’s depth chart from a fantasy perspective. Catch up on the work so far here.)
The Bengals are a team that puts together impressive regular-season performances under head coach Marvin Lewis, but seemingly can’t get over the playoff hump. The good news is that the playoffs don’t matter in fantasy leagues.
Andy Dalton remains locked in as the Bengals’ signal caller. An unfortunate thumb injury ended Dalton’s 2015 season in Week 14, but he’s fully healthy and ready to roll when camp opens up. Before the injury, Dalton was a rock-solid fantasy option, sitting seventh among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring. His 0.59 fantasy points per dropback actually tied for third behind only Cam Newton and Russell Wilson. Yet despite all of the checks in the positive column, Dalton is being generally downplayed by the drafting public. He’s currently going as the 15th quarterback in ADP. The fantasy apprehension may be a byproduct of losing his offensive coordinator along with two of his top three receivers, but Dalton still has the chops to provide back-end QB1 value. He’s worth strong consideration for those who deploy a late-round quarterback draft strategy.
While Dalton and the Bengals did lose Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones to free agency, A.J. Green is still in Cincinnati. One of the league’s most consistent receivers, Green has topped 1,000 receiving yards in all five of his professional seasons. While there’s a lot to like about Green – especially with Sanu and Jones out of the mix – it’s important to note that the Bengals called a run play on 45.8 percent of their offensive snaps last season, which was seventh-highest in the league. With new offensive coordinator Ken Zampese expected to run a similar offense to Hue Jackson’s scheme, Green’s target ceiling is slightly limited. He’s still a WR1, but Green is unlikely reach his career-high target total of 172 that he set in Jay Gruden’s offense back in 2013.
Cincinnati Bengals projected 2016 offense with 2015 grades:
To go along with Green, Cincinnati signed veteran Brandon LaFell and drafted Tyler Boyd. LaFell figures to start on the outside in Jones’ former role, while Boyd will replace Sanu in the slot. LaFell has been generally lackluster over the course of his career, but did show that he can be a fantasy asset with the Patriots in 2014. Much has been made of his 10 drops last season, but keep in mind that five of them came in his first game, which was against the Jets in Week 7. While LaFell did have one really bad game, his five drops over his remaining 61 targets on the year is on par with the average drop rate at the position.
The question for fantasy purposes is whether it will be Boyd or LaFell as the No. 2 wide receiver. Boyd is an intriguing rookie who put up prolific numbers at Pitt – he had 3,361 yards on 254 catches. He also proved to be quite versatile, catching at least one ball out of 13 different types of routes last year. However, there’s a learning curve in the NFL. While Boyd may prove to be a quick study, it’s reasonable to think that he and LaFell will be fairly close in targets. Based on current ADP trends, LaFell looks to be the better value, as he’s going essentially undrafted.
At tight end, Tyler Eifert is coming off an impressive 2015 campaign, where he finished sixth among tight ends in fantasy scoring thanks in large part to a position-high 13 touchdown receptions. While there’s certainly a lot to like about Eifert, he enters this season with two major red flags. For starters, he underwent offseason ankle surgery for an injury he sustained in the Pro Bowl and appears likely to miss time at the beginning of the season. However, even without the injury, Eifert would be a prime regression candidate, as his 13 scores came on just 66 targets. That sort of production is completely unsustainable. While Eifert does figure to see a bigger target share with Sanu and Jones out of the mix, he’s extremely unlikely to match last season’s efficiency.
The duo of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard remain entrenched as the Bengals’ primary running back options. Hill came out on top last season in terms of fantasy scoring, but Bernard was arguably the better player. Hill wound up 13th among running backs, but he did so without a single 100-yard game. It was the 12 touchdowns he scored that helped Hill to that finish. As I noted above with Eifert, touchdown production tends to regress to the mean.
[So where does it make sense to take Eifert this year? Early, because of the WR departures? Or late, because of injury and regression? Check out our PFF Draft Master tool and try a mock draft, complete with offensive line grades, full projections and all the PFF data.]
Bernard managed to find the end zone just twice last year. Even so, he finished 21st among running backs in standard leagues and 17th in PPR formats. While Bernard does see more carries than a typical passing-down back – he had 154 carries last season – he only topped double-digit carries seven times on the season. With Hill seeing a majority of the early-down work, Bernard’s value remains capped in the RB3 range for standard scoring, but he should be considered a solid RB2 in PPR leagues.
The Bengals have two elite fantasy options along their defensive front four in DE Carlos Dunlap and DT Geno Atkins. Both players finished as DL1s last season, with Dunlap tying for sixth and Atkins ranking 12th at the position in balanced scoring leagues. Dunlap remains locked and loaded as a strong DL1, with Atkins slotting in as a high-floor DL2 with added value in DT-required leagues. Vontaze Burfict will serve a three-game suspension to start the season, which presents a tricky scenario for those in IDP leagues. When on the field, Burfict is one of the league’s top producers, as he posted a top-10 tackles per opportunity rate of 18.2 percent last year. While you will lose three games, Burfict is still worth back-end LB1 consideration given his potential for elite production.